Here Yesterday, and Gone Today

about Shirley Baker

“After all, what is history if it is not an imagined past —
a collection of facts, which are viewed and interpreted in the light of our own experiences.”

Shirley Baker was one of Britain’s most compelling yet underexposed social documentary photographers. Her street photography of the working-class inner-city areas, taken from 1960 until 1981, would come to define her humanist vision. Shirley’s curiosity and engagement with the everyday world around her resulted in many different strands of work, many of which are yet to be exhibited, each of which confirms her acute observation, visual humour as well as compassion for the lives of ordinary people as distinctive in its exploration of post-war British culture.

Born in Kersal, North Salford, in 1932, her father had a family furniture manufacturing business in Salford. She took up photography at the age of eight when she and her twin sister were given Brownie cameras by an uncle. As a child she developed her first black and white film in the darkness of the coal shed. Her passion for photography continues and she went on to study Pure Photography at Manchester College of Technology. She is said to be one of few women in post-war Britain to receive formal photographic training.

It was not until 1986 that her photographs would come to wider public attention with the exhibition Here Yesterday, and Gone Today at Salford Art Gallery, a collection of photographs that make visible the spectrum of human resilience within the working class communities of Salford and Manchester. In 1989, Bloodaxe community press published Street Photographs: Manchester and Salford, which first brought the works of Shirley Baker to national critical attention.

Died on September 2014, Shirley’s first London solo exhibition Women and Children, and Loitering Men took place at The Photographer’s Gallery, London in 2015. Curated by Anna Douglas, it was one of the gallery’s most highly attended exhibitions. The accompanying book was also a success and the first and second editions sold out before the end of the show.

Most of Shirley’s photography was made for her personal interest. She has always been astonished by how quickly things can disappear without a trace.


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